Happiness as Effect

Is our desire that we should change experience or that experience should change us? Our first impulse is to try only to change the world around us, making it amenable for happy thoughts rather than working on those thoughts directly. We really believe that it’s an unchanging self that must act on what surrounds it rather than a change of being itself as the measure of any progress. The paradox is that an engagement with our subjective thinking is often ultimately more effective in changing the objective situation too. The finite causative unhappy world – the “do this now to get that later” mentality – we leave behind us.

As human beings we will often still dream that external circumstances are the dominant source of happiness – despite all the evidence, our experience and what we know to be true. Happiness that comes from a cause, from outside to in, is found to be counterfeit. Real happiness can only move from inside to out.

We may find that the more we plan pleasure ahead the less it appears. The future – that toy of the mind – is always a chimera, a lure to drive us onward. In the modern world some planning is necessary to function but joy is more likely if it finds us without anticipation.

As we move through life our various activities may or may not bring us “success” in the conventional view of society but it’s far more important to calibrate accomplishment internally, to remember what our real work is.

It’s a realization that goes against our whole way of living but our happiness depends more on a capacity not for achievement but for truth.


As an aside we see a similar myopic focus in medicine from both patients and providers. Symptom bashing is the philosophy of choice: a problem come up? Take these pills. Another problem? Take these others and problem solved right? There’s no attempt or even time put aside to understand underlying issues, to trace mere effect back to its cause and perhaps even – whisper this – adjust behavior and cure symptom at its source. It’s more convenient for all parties for the patient to be a passive bundle of symptoms to be repressed rather than an active discoverer of causes to be understood and if necessary changed.

Insight as art and science